It’s darkly colored, has long, webbed tentacles, and lurks deep in the belly of the ocean — and that’s about all scientists knew about the reclusive vampire squid, until a recent discovery turned theories about its mating habits on its head.
Because they live in such remote stretches deep under the ocean’s surface, no one has observed the vampire squid mate in the wild, and scientists had assumed they mate like other squids: by one big spawning event in their lifetime, according to a Christian Science Monitor.
But the vampire squid is technically not a squid — it is the only surviving member of a genus distinct from true squids, and that means its mating habits are quite different from other cephalopods.
Vampire squids, in actuality, go through dozens of cycles of laying eggs during their lifetime, rather than just one event, indicating that they probably live longer than their true squid counterparts.
The male passes a female a sperm packet during mating, said Henk-Jan Hoving of Ocean Research Kiel in Germany, who led the research.
He made the discovery by looking at the ovaries of 40 vampire squid specimens at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History that had been collected decades ago, and found evidence that many females had already spawned but still had the capacity for egg-laying.
Why does vampire squids work this way? Scientists speculate it’s because of how they evolved: they live in deep ocean environments and move very slowly, taking in very little calories, compared to the ferociously active squid of shallower waters. That means they probably don’t have the energy for one major spawning event.
The scientists estimated that the vampire squid can live up to eight years in its adult age, and perhaps even longer than that, whereas most squids and octopuses spawn just once and don’t live more than one or two years.